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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review: Banished by Sophie Littlefield

Reading level: Young Adult 
Hardcover: 304 pages 
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (October 12, 2010)
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

There isn’t much worth living for in Gypsum, Missouri—or Trashtown, as the rich kids call the run-down neighborhood where sixteen-year-old Hailey Tarbell lives. Hailey figures she’ll never belong—not with the popular kids at school, not with the rejects, not even with her cruel, sickly grandmother, who deals drugs out of their basement. Hailey never knew her dead mother, and she has no idea who her father was, but at least she has her four-year-old foster brother, Chub. Once she turns eighteen, Hailey plans to take Chub far from Gypsum and start a new life where no one can find them.

But when a classmate is injured in gym class, Hailey discovers a gift for healing that she never knew she possessed—and that she cannot ignore. Not only can she heal, she can bring the dying back to life. Confused by her powers, Hailey searches for answers but finds only more questions, until a mysterious visitor shows up at Gram’s house, claiming to be Hailey’s aunt Prairie.

There are people who will stop at nothing to keep Hailey in Trashtown, living out a legacy of despair and suffering. But when Prairie saves both Hailey and Chub from armed attackers who invade Gram’s house in the middle of the night, Hailey must decide where to place her trust. Will Prairie’s past, and the long-buried secret that caused her to leave Gypsum years earlier, ruin them all? Because as Hailey will soon find out, their power to heal is just the beginning.

This gripping novel from thriller writer Sophie Littlefield blazes a trail from small-town Missouri to the big city as Hailey battles an evil greater than she ever imagined, while discovering strengths she never knew she had.


WAKING UP HURT. Her head pounded and there was something in her eyes, something sticky and warm that made it hard to see.

She blinked hard and her eyes cleared, and she realized she was in a car.

Not just any car-her boyfriend's car. - Prologue June 1995

"I'm taking you with me," she said. "You can't stay here with Alice anymore."

My heart did a little flip at her words. Leaving- even if it wasn't the way I planned, even if it was with a stranger- the thought was almost irresistible. I wanted to say Okay, fine, let's do it. To hell with school, with the stupid Cleans who'd made fun of me forever. To hell with our falling-down house, the weedy yard, the long walk to the grocery. Anywhere would be better than here. - Pg 95

BANISHED centers around Hailey Tarbell, a small-town girl from the wrong side of the tracks who discovers she's heir to an ancient legacy and all the power that it brings.  Though she has an amazing gift, Hailey's life is anything but. She lives with her cruel grandmother--a woman who sells drugs to make ends meet and neglects Chub, a cast-off child in dire need of serious developmental therapy.  When a stranger comes along and offers Hailey a way out, Hailey's life changes in ways that she never imagined. But how much will she have to suffer before her and Chub can ever really be free?

The strongest component of BANISHED was learning about origins of Hailey's healing gift and how it could be traced back centuries ago to a tiny village in Ireland. Using the gift of healing to help save people in pain appealed to me and is what essentially kept me reading on.  Like all magic, the power had a dark side and a light side. I loved how in Hailey's world, there were consequences for using magic. There were those that chose to use it for good purposes, and others who allowed it to twist and corrupt them into a shell of who they were really meant to be.  Sometimes people had good intentions about using their powers, but did something they knew was against the rules, and paid for it dearly. I was fascinated by this aspect of the book and would've loved to have explored it in even more detail if time had allowed.  

Since Hailey's grandmother spent her days smoking, drinking and watching day-time television, it was up to Hailey to be the "adult". Hailey cooked, cleaned and tried to take care of her foster brother as best as she could. With all that on her plate, you'd think she'd have some shred of light in her life. But Hailey had no friends, no boyfriend – even the strange kids didn't want anything to do with her. So many people would've given up and become part of the cycle of poverty and despair—the same cycle Hailey saw every day at school and within her community. But she was strong minded and determined to make a better life for herself. I admired her character. Sophie Littlefield did a tremendous job finding Hailey's voice.

The seedy aspects of Hailey's life—the druggie customers coming to the house trying to paw all over her and her disgusting grandmother were more than a little disturbing for me. I almost stopped reading at one point when a certain "plan" of her grandmother's was revealed. I don't want to give away any of the plot line by going into detail, but it was very unsettling to say the least.

BANISHED was a complex, dark urban fantasy about survival, dark magic and the power of redemption. While I can see its appeal to certain groups of readers, I'm sad to say it wasn't the perfect fit for me. I personally didn't care for the zombie element that evolved nor did I appreciate some of the more gruesome moments, particularly a painful situation involving a dog.

With that being said, I believe BANISHED will find a market out there and many people who will enjoy it. Sophie Littlefield is a strong writer—her depictions of Hailey's home life and her characterization were stellar. I would definitely check out her future novels even though BANISHED wasn't a knock out of the park for me.

Sophie grew up in central Missouri, daughter of a history professor father and an artist mother. She earned a degree in computer science at a large Midwestern university and made very little use of it. After living in Chicago for ten years, she and her husband packed up the kids and moved to Northern California in 1998. She's been keeping house and writing ever since. She published a number of short stories and articles before landing an agent and selling her first novel in the spring of 2008.

1 comment:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

oooo great review! Thanks for your honesty. I'm still on the fence about this one.